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New research raises concerns about the pregnancy use of Daytrana, Concerta, Ritalin and similar attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs, suggesting that side effects may result in congenital heart defects for newborns.
In a study published this month in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers warns about the use of methylphenidate-based among pregnant women. The medications are commonly used to treat ADHD, but appear to involve a nearly 30% increased the risk for congenital malformations.
The class of medications includes many popular ADHD drugs, including Ritalin, Daytrana, Concerta, and others, and are considered stimulants. They are also sometimes used to treat narcolepsy.
In this latest study, researchers from Harvard and across Europe looked at data on 1.8 million pregnancies from 2000 to 2013 in the U.S., and 2.5 million pregnancies in Nordic Health registries from 2003 through 2013. The researchers looked for the use of both ADHD drugs and amphetamines during pregnancy as well as children born with congenital malformations.
According to the findings, the use of drugs like Ritaling and Daytrana were linked with a 28% increased risk of a child being born with a cardiac malformation. However, no such association was found with amphetamine use.
“These findings suggest a small increase in the risk of cardiac malformations associated with intrauterine exposure to methylphenidate but not to amphetamines,” the researchers concluded. “This information is important when weighing the risks and benefits of alternative treatment strategies for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in women of reproductive age and during early pregnancy.”
The study was published just days after another study by researchers in Sweden reported that the use of ADHD drugs during pregnancy was also linked to an increased risk of babies being born with central nervous system disorders, like seizures.
ADHD Drug Overuse Concerns
The study also comes amid increasing concerns over the perceived overprescribing of ADHD drugs.
About 15% of all high school-age children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD, but some experts say that number should be closer to 5%.
One early advocate of stimulate treatment for children with ADHD, Dr. Keith Conners of Duke University, said that the rate of children now being diagnosed with ADHD and placed on drug treatments is “preposterous” and called ADHD an epidemic manufactured by drug companies.
Conners and others say that the inflated diagnoses and prescriptions are the result of a 20 year effort by the pharmaceutical industry to cash in on concerned parents hoping that poor grades and typical childhood behavior can be cured with drugs.
While some manufacturers paid off doctors to speak on their drugs behalf, others have gone as far as releasing comic books encouraging children to take medication to address ADHD. At some point since 2000, Conners noted that the FDA has cited every major ADHD drug manufacturer for false and misleading advertising about their ADHD drugs.
Those efforts led to $9 billion in sales for the ADHD drug industry in 2012, and 3.5 million children using ADHD medications.